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Iowa State University Extension

Production agriculture vs. outdoor recreation is economic balancing act

child biking and adult walking on a recreation trail

It’s a matter of balance: Iowa’s natural resource base must support both production agriculture as well as an increasingly important outdoor recreation industry. A new Iowa State University study examines both sides of the issue, said Daniel Otto, an ISU Extension economist and lead author of the study. “The Economic Value of Iowa’s Natural Resources” offers an informational framework for identifying economic development strategies that balance the needs of Iowa’s changing population with economic and resource sustainability.

“As Iowa’s production agriculture responds to new opportunities in renewable fuel, it is important that recreational amenities not be displaced or degraded during the process,” Otto said.

The study discusses how the social and environmental benefits of Iowa’s natural resources generate significant economic values for Iowans. Otto and his colleagues demonstrate that measurable expenditure benefits can be calculated to inform economic development policies at the local, regional and state levels. The study examines how outdoor recreation activities generate spending that translates into jobs and payroll totals.

For lakes, state parks, county parks and trails, the researchers estimate spending levels of $2.63 billion and 50 million visits, Otto said. Including multiplier effects implies that the Iowa recreation industry is supporting more than 27,400 jobs and $580 million in income.

“We also consider how improvements to quality of life generated by recreation opportunities and natural resources are important to retaining and attracting skilled workers in the state,” Otto said. “In addition, we address how environmental improvements to Iowa’s natural resources can generate economic benefits.”

The complete study is available online.

This article appeared in March 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter